The light in Cairo is sandy and stratiform like the beige and grey nuances of its decadent buildings along each side of the wide streets, between bridges, underpasses, and railroads. The rays of sunshine penetrating the thin vapor surface bounce on the rusty air conditioners spotting the stochastic and implacable turmoil of the square, and intensify the amber nuance of the afternoon light.
I walk up to Tahrir Square trying to avoid the big puddles purposely created by the young safety staff on the Maspiro side, in order to appease possible interventions with CR and CF tear gases – tear gases causing vomit and attacks to the nervous system generating paralysis and/or tremors – by the police. Only a few weeks have gone by since the sacrifice of the last martyrs (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maspiro_Massacre).
After a schematic control of passports and backpacks by two smiling young guys, another couple of them raises the ropes enclosing the entrance … they let me enter begging my pardon.
Tahrir Square is alive, organic, it smells, sweats, pulls,cries, and shouts. On its flanks, the rolling shutters of closed shops are swallowed by boards and graffiti. Makeshift huts and ropes delimit spaces for artists making up slogans and images, as well as for the first of the “hospitals” I find where volunteers receive patients and try to put mount of medicines in order. I hear that little gangs from time to time enter the square trying to steal medical equipment and packs – the Raìs sent them, it appears.
The lampposts are supports for improvised architectures necessary to organize the activity of the square. At the same time, they are the main source of electricity squatted by cables coming out of metal and connected to extension leads powering big tents once the dark comes. A bald man smoking a cigarette has a plastic USB antenna and a worn-out laptop on his legs. He explains to me that the companies around the square have created access points for the rebels. Then, he lets me see his Twitter account on his mobile phone.
Between the sidewalks and the middle of the square, iron carts are serving fuel – iron bowls of hot beans with lemon, cumin, salt, pepper and chilly; salad and pickled vegetables are served on dirty, wooden tables for half a dollar.
More compact carts offer yams from Alessandria – coming out of dented and steamy cylinders where wood and ember burn exhausting from a cardboard tube. In the meantime, somebody else is filling plastic dishes with cous cous and sugar. Tripods and bricks are for salted tomatoes rolled in cellophane on which the Muslim brothers have pasted their icon – the balance representing justice and freedom.
In the middle of the square – between sidewalks and the center where one of the many tent cities made up of fabric, cardboard, plastic, ropes and carpets towers sheltering the rebels from the cold – groups of people press on each other in order to exchange ideas on the current political situation, pulling and shouting, kissing each other, in an endless stream of voices alternating and overlapping each other without any rule and with an exhausting violence and beauty. Old people, men, women, children. No one is missing.
Someone says that the revolution will remain in the square without going to vote, someone believes that elections are a step forward, someone else shouts that the SCAF (Security Council of Armed Forces, the at the moment control the country) must go away. Someone says that sellers must leave the square, because they are selling drugs, and that’s not a market. An old man says that the front lines of protest stuff themselves with drugs, causing the reaction of those surrounding them.
Not far from there, before a statue of Omar Makram – mostly covered with posters and tagged with stencils, graffiti and stickers – a child, darker than the darkest coal, is sleeping crouched on a metal grid. I prepare my camera to take a picture of both. I am immediately surrounded. A long-bearded man wants to see my passport. He says that it is impossible to take pictures in the square.
This kind of episodes will repeat again day after day, causing endless discussions regarding my legitimacy to take photos or shot videos. When some guy with the Egyptian flag even asks me to be photographed, I am stopped by someone who says: “why are you photographing him? He is not the revolution, he is here just for fun.” They say they are afraid that I portray the negative side of the square. They insist that poor people are not the square.
I begin to think about how important is the square not only as a solid and endless occupation carried out by those who are there, but also as a passing-through place. It must be open to those who have not been staying there since the beginning, but has become interested a little later. It must be open to those who paint their faces with the colours of the Egyptian flag, even if they would have done the same when Mubarak was leading the country. It must be open to poor people hungry and without a place to go, to motorcycles supplied with a TV instead of a rear-view mirror and ridden by a woman wearing a burka, a man and three children wearing sunglasses. It must be open to Vespa with a subwoofer instead of the flap for documents, to cripples, to people without teeth, to the hearing impaired who can’t hear but dive into the discussing crowd to imagine it – the revolution – in the mouths opening and closing spasmodically. It must be open to barefoot children running all over the place or sleeping under heavy grimy blankets.
I had not read about this Tahrir on Twitter.
As it seems, some Western journalist used the pictures of Tahrir Square in a manner the rebels did not appreciate. Or maybe that’s what the State TV network has said, that in the square there were more European than Egyptians, in order to take the rebels away from Western reporters. As it turns out, now it is difficult to take pictures of the poorest occupants – who represent the most part of the present Tahrir fauna, made up of rubbish, street vendors, old people around a fire.
I try to explain that fire is a symbol of aggregation the way old people are of memory. Nothing to do. I feel like we are looking at different images. Censorship doesn’t seem to be linked to security matters – that is, it is not to protect someone’s identity – but it is the result of the acquired awareness of the danger that images represent for Tahrir occupants.
Images are weapons and they actually are the only weapons available to the rebels. I feel like I have already seen such awareness – which is candid and deep at the same time – during the Iranian Green Revolution, and more methodically among the cyber activists of the current Syrian revolution. I think that this new perception of the images – digital, iconic, symbolic – is the consequence of an increasing importance of politics in the era of real-time politics.
Finding myself before a visual censorship irritates me. On the other hand, enforcing the rule in an anarchical and undefined way – anyone can accord or deny such right – opens to unexpected positions. As a result, sometimes I can take pictures after long negotiations.
Why can’t we take pictures of the poor revolutionaries? Are they one of the reason for revolting, aren’t they? The increasing presence of an sort of lumpenproletariat in the square poses a key question: someone tells me that the poor ones arrive in Tahrir more or less aware of what is going on. They come here to take care of their health, to eat and sleep sheltered by a tent.
When I move from Tahrir towards the occupation standing before the Prime Minister’s office, I find a completely different situation. People tell me that here I can find the Tahrir of January 25th – the one that got the revolution started. Here are guitars, drums, students, Twitter and FB generation. I feel puzzled because it looks like the world of students and intellectuals is setting apart from that of the poor. These two worlds are placed in two different areas, but they are fighting (more or less knowingly) to achieve the same goal.
I take a look around: the walls surrounding the building are completely covered of tags, stencils, graffiti coming from stereotyped Western mottos, like “one solution …revolution”, “a.c.a.b.” (all cops are bastards). But one of them particularly strikes me: the Twitter’s blue bird behind a crossed circle similar to a ban signal: “the revolution will not be twitted.”
It almost sounds like a call to be present in the field, almost a statement of distrust and impotence towards one of the most popular tools of the Arab Spring. It reminds me of Gil Scott-Eron andThe revoution will not be televised (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qGaoXAwl9kw).
By the way, what remains besides scepticism, fear, inside tensions, is the sensation that Tahrir is an organic, physical-symbolical entity almost independent from individuals. The square is indefinable: depending on the moments, on the day and night, it is filled with completely different human beings ranging from Muslims and Christians, to the poor, students, intellectuals, workers, expatriates. At the end, everyone can take part in it, everyone can say his/her opinion: this is what is left beyond the naïve or reductive interpretations that inevitably characterize such events.
In a situation where girls are molested here and there, the really positive side is represented by those people intervening to stop such episodes. If only we stop looking at violence (a few pilferers are caught robbing and are beaten by a raging multitude) and start noticing people getting tired of endless attacks by the police or night gangs engaged by the regime!
On Mohammed Mahmoud’s side people still talk of eye snipers: even the army doesn’t allow to see anything – they can’t aim at cameras, so they go straight to the eyes. In the meantime, the surviving eyes of the crowd fix the wall of concrete blocks separating the buffering zone from the troops protecting the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
The day after, I read on Twitter that before the elections started, some party officers were distributing sandwiches and Pepsi in front of the poles. At night, a Dick Tracy-look-alike magician, at the entrance of the square, is entertaining a big huddle of men with table-tennis balls which he is spitting out of his mouth and extracting out of the eyes and nose of his audience. The balls frequently drop on the ground and roll around the bodies of the people around there, hitting dented cars sporting an arabesque instead of the wheel.
The Muslim brotherhood will win, everybody knows it. In the meantime, The Sad Panda is preparing a balloon shaped like Sad Panda to drag around among children’s cotton candies. At night, at the end of election day, it looks that an activist has been kidnapped. As the news of his release is twitted, the followers, puzzled, wonder why he is not twitting yet…
Here are some virtual hint on the Egyptian revolution:
Graffiti and revolution: